President Barack Obama on Wednesday again recognized the rights of atheists and agnostics in his Religious Freedom Day proclamation.
"Because of the protections guaranteed by our Constitution, each of us has the right to practice our faith openly and as we choose," he said. "As a free country, our story has been shaped by every language and enriched by every culture. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, Sikhs and non-believers. Our patchwork heritage is a strength we owe to our religious freedom."
"Today, we also remember that religious liberty is not just an American right; it is a universal human right to be protected here at home and across the globe. This freedom is an essential part of human dignity, and without it our world cannot know lasting peace," the President added.
Religious Freedom Day, which has been celebrated on January 16 every year since 1993, commemorates the enactment of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786. The statute was drafted by Thomas Jefferson and declared, "no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief."
Last year, Obama noted the statute "preserved religious freedom for both believers and non-believers for over 220 years," and in 2011 he said the Founding Fathers upheld "the right to believe in no religion at all."